The Brother



The Brother (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Tuum, 2008, pp. 116

A stranger arrives in a small nameless town that is held in a tight grip by a group of corrupt men of power. A stranger, wearing a large hat and a long black cloak, claiming to be the long-lost brother of a young woman, who has been cheated out of her inheritance... And suddenly everything starts to change.
Rein Raud’s short novel is, in his own words, a spaghetti western told in poetic prose, simultaneously paying tribute to two such incompatible figures as Clint Eastwood and Alessandro Baricco. And it ends with a hint of a ghost story coming as a surprise, when a young lawyer’s assistant turned detective uncovers a secret that makes us unexpectedly look at the “brother” from a different perspective altogether.
But the storyline is only one part, and perhaps not the main part of the novel. Raud’s most recent books have contained a fair share of philosophical discussions, and similar aphoristic thoughts are not completely absent from this novel either. Still, it is the tender and lyrical language, precise and strongly visual imagery, along with the technique of introducing important, sometimes crucial turns of the plot in dependent clauses of complex sentences, that makes this book gourmet reading instead of the fast food that westerns traditionally are. Playing with the conventions of the genre, Raud’s manner of creating characters is sharp, but sketchy, they are symbols rather than in-depth psychological portraits of real people, just as befits the characters of a western. There is the banker, who intuitively realises that the series of misfortunes that has befallen him and his associates since the stranger’s arrival is not just coincidental, introduced to us as “a strong man, who had already begun to take note of his health, and had achieved enough in his life to answer yes/no questions with one word”. The fact that a former surgeon is now a professional killer is revealed to us by a comment on his mother’s death: “luckily, this happened before the surgeon, head stuffed by his snuffles, had cut into a rich man’s girl in the wrong way and was put behind bars for some time – from there, a different man returned, whose knives were nevertheless just as sharp”; the professional seductress Dessa “had never been to this town before, because people whom someone hates passionately enough to get in touch with her usually tend to live in more sophisticated places”, and when the protagonist learns that a beautiful girl whom he had mistaken for one of the idle rich is actually a music teacher, she asks him: “Am I now different in your mind? When you know that the option to let time pass senselessly does not soil me?” The words the people speak in the book are larger than life, and so are their deeds. But although the story could take place anywhere, and, apart from a few cellphones, anytime, it is still also a very Estonian story, coming from a society ruthlessly divided into winners and losers.

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